Thinking Styles and Middle School Success

Practicing the three thinking styles will boost your middle school success.*

Middle School success will come easier when you know your thinking styles. These are distinct from your learning/memory styles; i.e., visual, audio, and kinesthetic. (take a quick test on your preferred learning/memory style)

Your brain prefers one of three thinking styles:
Practicing all 3 thinking styles increases academic success.
What’s your brain’s preferred thinking style?
  • What thinking
  • How thinking
  • Why thinking
What thinking is useful for academic success because details matter.

What thinkers prefer facts and information, like names, dates, and definitions. These students think that if they know the details of a topic, then they know it entirely, and everything else will fall into place.

The pitfall for what thinkers is that their written essay and answers on tests lack analysis and depth. They usually get feedback like, “please expand on the main ideas,” or “which concepts tie these facts together?”

What thinkers can expand their academic success by asking themselves how and why questions, like. . .
  • Why did it happen this way?
  • Why does this work/not work?
  • How did this happen?
  • How do (I/they) do this?
  • Why is this important/not important?
  • How does this connect to other ideas?
How thinking contributes to academic success because processes are important.

Solving problems is a favorite for how-thinkers. They tend to do well on assignments that require step-by-step processes. They think that if they know how to do something, everything else will fall into place.

How thinkers pay attention to details, but only the most important ones. Also, their work tends to be short on synopsis and analysis.

How thinkers can become well-rounded thinkers by practicing the following:
  • adding details
  • delving deeper into the concepts
  • making connections between the major concepts
  • not overdoing it on the how-to/process thinking
Why thinkers are strong in analysis and synopsis.

Why thinkers want to know the reasons for an action or an event. They focus on making connections between major ideas.

The pitfall for why thinkers is that they think that if they know the motivation behind something, they also know all the important facts, names, dates, and other pertinent data, as well as essential processes and steps.

Why thinkers can become well-rounded thinkers by practicing the following:
  • including details
  • noticing processes, steps, and/or the how-to of something
Your thinking style may prefer a particular class or subject, but this a false guideline.

It’s definitely useful to know that solving algebraic equations requires how thinking. It’s a process that answers the question: How do I do this?

Similarly, it’s useful to know that science requires memorizing names and definitions. Memorizing answers the question: What is this?

How-thinkers tend to love history and social studies because these subjects answer the question: Why did this happen?

However, every subject in school has elements of all three thinking styles.

Geometry is a math subject that requires the memorization of terms, postulates, and corollaries. Without knowing these rules, a student can’t solve geometric proofs.

Science requires how and why thinking for the Scientific Method and the execution of lab experiments.

History requires knowing particular names, dates, and other important details. (student’s guide to the study of history)

It’s more useful to look at each assignment, test, quiz, etc., and ask yourself, “Which thinking style(s) does this demand of me?”
For middle school success, know your teachers' thinking styles.
Tests and quizzes reflect the teacher’s preferred thinking style.

Each teacher has a preferred thinking style that shapes in-class assignments, homework, etc. As you’re doing homework, notice the type(s) of questions that the assignment is asking you. Which type of thinking is necessary for getting it done well?

The way your teachers teach will reflect their thinking styles. Listen for the type(s) of thinking they prefer, and you will be able to participate effectively in class.

Take notes in class, and when you go over them at night, code them into What, How, and Why thinking. If you notice that one of them is missing or under-represented, write down a question for the teacher.

For a more comprehensive look at success in middle school, read the following blog posts: Success in Middle School: 10 Essential Ingredients, Middle Schoolers Managing Paperwork, and Middle School Students Using Planners.

*Information on Thinking Styles was taken with permission from the Academic Life Coaching Student Workbook, 3rd Edition, by John Andrew Williams, Founder of Coach Training EDU. He is an author, speaker, life coach, and coach-trainer.

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